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The Red Battle
‘…there is no doubt that there was racism in the goldfields. It's a part of our history that casts a fairly dark shadow…’ Benjamin Mountford
May 1875, Buckland Goldfields
Just past sunset, they came unexpectedly. The sound of trumpets filled the air. “Rule Britannia” the mob of miners bellow as they marched their way through the camp. With yells and hoots, they hunted and whipped those yellow people. Showing no mercy to every Chinese, young or old, the white diggers knocked them down, one by one. The ends of their long black whips slashed through the air. “Out with the Chongmen!” the mob shouted aggressively.
Red dust filled the air, as the Chinamen ran for their lives. They were trying to escape the brutal taunting of the Australian diggers. The diggers bombarded every tent on the camp, ruffling through the Chinamen’s tents for gold and destroying make-shift temples and homes.
“Come on, let’s drive out these long-tailed devils off at once!” A part of the mob heads for a tent. The tent of the youngest Chinese men on camp. The diggers violently tear down their home. Anger rushes through the Chinese diggers. With all their strength, they foolishly try to fight back. They are pushed, kicked and shoved around by the white men. “Taopaoyiyang kuai, nin keyi,” “Escape as fast as you can!” an older looking Chinese warns the others in Mandarin. He tries to hide the gold, but is thrown aside. Nuggets of gold fly out his hands. As he tries to gather the pieces he is taken away. The Chinese punches and kicks the diggers as hard as he can but is beaten down. “Get lost you Chong!” A digger shouts at him. The Chinese man doesn’t give up, he wants his gold back. “You want a fight mate?!” the digger is annoyed by the Chinaman’s grit. He pulls out a pocket knife. As the Chinese thrusts his arm forward, the white digger stabs his arm with antagonism.
The Chinese is pushed to the ground and spat on. The abusive digger’s grab the gold and leave the Chinaman with a sense of accomplishment.
Like a leaking tap, the cut drips with blood, staining his pearl-white shirt. The Chinese must hide form these violent Australians he thinks as he staggers through the conflict. Fires break out throughout the encampment. Tired and confused the Chinese man can no longer walk through the violence and thick smoke.
He feels dazed and falls to the ground, but as he does a pair of arms catches him. “It’s alright mate. I’ve got you,” a voice in a thick Australian accent says.
The Chinese man looks up at the owner of the arms; a white man. “This is the enemy,” He thinks, “Why is he helping me?” He looks up at the friendly face confusingly. Not long ago an Australian was beating him to his death now an Australian was helping him. Could this really be happening?
Circles and shapes move around as he falls unconscious.
“Mate, mate. Can you hear me?” the Chinese man hears the voice with the same thick accent. He slowly opens his eyes. “Good heavens, thought you were a gonner mate,” the owner of the voice says. He appears to be full-build with ash-blonde hair and blue eyes. His skin is a light brown as the orange light of the sunset shines on him.
The Chine looks around in confusion. “My name is John. I saw what those bloody…” The white man introduces himself as he reaches for the wounded arm but the Chinese moves back in fear. Thud! He feels the rough wall behind his back looking at his surroundings; he appeared to be in a water tank. There was a ladder reaching up to an opening in the roof. The tank was rusty and smelt like rainwater.
Noticing the confusion on the Chinaman’s face, the Australian explained their whereabouts. ‘Yeah we needed to get away from them mate,’ the Australian named John says, ‘Let’s hope this water tank will do,’ he speaks with uncertainty. He was sure they might attack, but the tank seemed like the safest place in the camp. The Chinese was lost for words. He didn’t know what to say. ‘My name Chen,” he says in some kind of broken English. “ Those bloody diggers nearly got you there, aye? You alright?” He asks with a concern look on his face.
“They took my gold and stab me in my arm,” Chen remembers the brutal attack.
“Sorry ‘bout that, mate. Chen, is it?”
“Yes.” the Chinese nods. “Why you help me?”
“I’m not like them Chen. After what I saw them do to you, I don’t think it’s fair”
“Me come to Australia with great hope. Now there no hope left.” The Chinese looks down in regret. “Why Australian don’t like us?”
“Mate, I wish I could answer that, I’m confused just as you are right now,” John can’t understand why the diggers tear down the Chinese camp.
Just like them, the Chinamen searched for gold in and around the goldfields. Trying to provide for their families. Just because they were different and maybe even worked a little bit harder, the diggers had no right to attack the Chinamen’s camp.
John, the Australian, glanced over at the Chen. Still in confusion he sat there with his pearl-white shirt covered in blood stains and dragon-print trousers. He had yellow skin and slanted eyes. Chen wore his black hair in pigtails and had a chain around his chest. Yes, he was certainly different from the Australians.
John didn’t want to hurt the Chinese people; he certainly didn’t want them to be killed. He just wanted them off their land, but was it really their land? After all it was a free country. John couldn’t understand why the other blokes wanted to hurt Chen just for his gold.
There was silence in the tank but both men’s heads were as noisy as the commotion around them. The men were deep in thought, thinking about the man that sat close by. They looked at each other with scepticism. Could they trust each other?
“You hungry?” John broke the long silence.
“Ah, food! But how can you eat at a time like this?” the Chinese replied without hesitation. He didn’t want to seem weak or dependant on the Australian even though he would be happy with a bowl of noodles.
“Yes, you’re right. It’s as bad as a war out there,” John said forgetting about the soft piece of damper in his rucksack.
“’Ere let me see that stab.” John pulled Chen’s sleeve up revealing the oozing pus and blood on the lesion. He decided to clean it. He poured out some water from his decanter and wiped the blood and pus away with a torn piece of clothing.
Just like his, Chen’s blood was a deep red.
“So tell me, Chen why did you come to Australia?” John asked as he poured some iodine from his kit. The wound stung. Chen knew there was something better than the white man’s solution.
“To get gold. With gold we make jewellery for Australian people. They buy then we use money at home,”
John tore a piece of cloth and tied it around the wound.
As night time grew, the conversation between the two men was as if they had been friends since. They revealed bits and pieces about each other’s lives in the dark water.
The tank seemed to be the only place where a Chinese and Australian were at peace.
“If I die, please, John, give this to my wife in Castlemaine,” Chen handed John the chain around his neck. On it was a lock. “I’ll try my best, Chen,” John promised Chen.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
The men immediately fell quite as they heard the noise from the opposite wall of the tank. Without warning, an axe head broke through the wall.
They were caught!
“Well look what we have ‘ere?” A digger with a cigarette stick was holding the axe head. His face was written with contempt. The mob of white diggers sneered as they held torches of fire with authority.
“Making friends with this Chong, are we Johnny?” Another digger teased as he began to pull Chen towards the mob.
“Back off, mate! Leave him alone,” John said sternly, defending the Chinese.
“What do you think you’re doing, aye John?” the digger said in astonishment. “You’re standing up for him? He and his bloody chings don’t belong here John!”
“They are people just like us. We don’t need to treat ‘em like dogs,” John remarked.
“Oh on their side are we John?” the smoker said he gave Chen a spiteful look.
“ Let’s get rid of ‘em!” the audacious digger shouted.
The mob grabbed John and Chen. Walking through the camp, John saw the damage the Australian miners had caused. Tents were on fire and not a single Chinese was in sight. The group of diggers stopped at a pit. In the ditch were bodies. Chinese bodies. One by one on top of each other, there was a stack of them. The air smelt like death.
“How could you do this?!” John shouted as he and Chen were pushed into the pit. Before John could speak his mouth was filled with sand. Trapped in the deep pit, they couldn’t escape. In no time Chen and John were buried in the pit. The smell was horrifying.
“Please give chain to my wife, remember...” Chen said these few words with his last breathe. John shook Chen but it was no use, his limbs were lifeless. He was dead. A tear rolled down John’s cheek as he breathed his last breathe.